A series of four explosions in Columbia and Ellicott City over the weekend were probably the work of young vandals who "do not realize the firepower they're playing with," a state fire marshal said this week.
The explosions -- which were reported at or near the Columbia Palace 9 movie theater and outside two residences -- were caused by two illegal fireworks devices and a pair of homemade pipe bombs, said Deputy Chief Robert B. Thomas Jr.
Although no injuries were reported in any of the explosions, Thomas said the incidents could have killed or seriously injured innocentbystanders, and he urged anyone with information about the bombings to come forward.
"These were devices that are powerful enough to blow a person's hand or arm right off, and they have no practical use whatsoever," he said. "It would seem someone is experimenting with some potentially lethal toys."
No suspects have been identified in the investigation, which is being handled jointly by the state Fire Marshal's Office and county police.
Both police and fire investigators said that the weekend incidents -- as well as most reported pipe bombings -- have the telltale signs of teen-agers tampering with explosives.
"Most of the pipe bomb incidents reported to us tend to be teen-agers who have made the bombs at home" with material that is readily available, said Sgt. Gary L. Gardner, a county police spokesman.
The first explosion was reported at about 9 p.m. in the theater parking lot, where an M-80, or "quarter-stick," firecracker was placedunder the hood of a car. The windshield was blown out and the hood buckled, police said.
A similar firecracker was set off about 15 minutes later in a mailbox in the Glenmont Development, about three-quarters of a mile from the theater.
At 11:40 p.m., a more powerful explosive device, a pipe bomb, detonated beneath a 1992 Mercury automobile parked in the 5700 block of Yellow Rose Court in Columbia. The car was heavily damaged and its tires were flattened, police said.
The last explosion occurred shortly after 4 a.m. on the front porch of a home in the 5500 block of Foxtail Lane in Ellicott City. The blast forced in the front door and blew out a front window.
Police said they believe the bombings to be random and that no person was targeted in any of the incidents.
Detonating a pipe bomb is a felony offense and carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Last year, several pipe bombs were found in county high schools,Thomas said,although there is no apparent link between those incidents and the recent explosions.
"What we also want to let people know is that these are very dangerous devices to make, no matter how much you think you know what you're doing," he said.
On Memorial Day 1990, a Frederick man was killed when a pipe bomb he was assembling in his home exploded accidentally, Thomas said.